DUBAI: Few economic sectors can expect to avoid the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, whose global death toll has crossed the 170,000 mark.
Although a handful of businesses are flourishing thanks to a surge in demand for their products and services, the overwhelming majority are busy counting the cost of precautionary measures such as lockdown and social distancing.
Tourism, hospitality, air transport and entertainment are among the worst-hit industries right now across the world, but the full list of the pandemic’s economic victims is long and depressing.
Among the many entrepreneurs of the digital era who have been put in a precarious position due to the pandemic are social media influencers.
The most popular topics for sponsored posts on social media — fashion and beauty, travel and lifestyle — are also the most vulnerable in this extraordinary time.
The main reason for their sudden reversal of fortune is a rush by brands across the spectrum to tighten their budgets in a period of uncertainty.
The influencer marketing industry was predicted to grow to $9.7 billion this year by “The State of Influencer Marketing 2020: Benchmark Report by Influencer Marketing Hub.”
But now collaborations, on which the influencer industry is heavily dependent, are starting to look grim.
“Before the pandemic, I had at least three to four clients per week, which were looking to review products or shoot items,” said Mohammad Khteeb, a 39-year-old Jordanian influencer.
“But after the pandemic (hit), many of those brands stopped. I now get one client every week or every two weeks. All of them are afraid to spend.”
Khteeb, whose Instagram account @its_mohd_khateeb has 946,000 followers, said brands were beginning to approach the situation by using a revenue-sharing model rather than a fixed cost.
“This means the risk of the campaign will be in two parts,” he told Arab News. “So I’m trying to help and support some brands, and I moved with some of them to the revenue-sharing model.”
According to Khteeb, the crisis has the potential to filter influencers’ marketing and “clean up” social media platforms in the foreseeable future.
“Influencers who have personal content will remain,” he said. “And the others will (fizzle out) by that time because they can’t think of other ways to create good content from nothing.”
Until the coronavirus pandemic hit, influencers had been playing an important part in brand sales.
The findings of the 2019 edition of the Social Media Influencers survey, commissioned by the Dubai-based BPG Group and the research agency YouGov, were an eye-opener.
The study found that 73 percent of respondents aged 18-35 across the UAE and Saudi Arabia had purchased a brand or tried a service based on a trusted social media influencers’ recommendation.
Their areas of coverage ranged from entertainment, food and travel to tech, lifestyle, arts and culture, fashion and beauty.
Now, as more people are encouraged to stay home to prevent the spread of COVID-19 infection, their online usage of social media is sharply increasing.
Some influencers have found a way to limit the pandemic’s damage by moving their work online and ensuring that their dependency on brands remains small enough.
“What I’ve seen is more home-grown brands reaching out to their community of influencers for support more than ever,” said Dina Ghandour, a 34-year-old Canadian-Palestinian e-commerce business owner.
“And in the same way, I’ve felt much more inclined — in heart, space and time — to offer whatever support I can to small local brands.”
The yoga teacher and manager of Yapparel, which has 17,400 followers, said she always made sure that a brand or “influenced collaboration” held a small percentage of her work.
In other words, the core of YApparel’s business remained with her range of offered services. Such an arrangement has allowed her some leeway in an unstable and uncertain period, Ghandour said.
“So my online yoga classes and offerings have done really well in this time as people are home,” she told Arab News.
“I believe these circumstances will help influencers change and upgrade their model of work. That could mean diversifying income or learning a new chargeable skill to share with one’s community.
“Influencers should be flexible enough to support brands for less or no money, should they feel inclined to.”
However, with retailers shutting their doors and countless employees being made redundant due to a lack of sales, many influencers are slowly but surely starting to pay the price as brands tighten their belts.
Gaenaelle Perrot, CEO of NEMOZENA, said the Emirati-owned brand designed and produced in Italy is stepping back from any new agreements with influencers and content creators for now, in view of the crisis impacting both businesses and individuals worldwide.
“As soon as the markets return to stability and the public are able to go back to their day-to-day routines, we as a brand will then look to resuming our digital and social activity, including our influencer program,” Perrot said.
“The current global climate highlights our selection process when it comes to choosing influencers and, now more than ever, it amplifies our commitment to (our stated) criteria.”
Perrot was unable to share specific figures, but said the need to balance her budget applies to all her partnerships, particularly as the brand evolves.
“As this is our most direct way to communicate with both women as well as our clients, we remain positive and continue to have a clear vision of the influencers and women we want to work with,” she told Arab News.
“We’re therefore adapting our strategies and allocating budget to enact this. We always take great care with selecting influencers we wish to partner with, and our reasons have invariably gone beyond just the number of followers.”
As a brand, NEMOZENA considers a range of key factors, including the affinity of the influencer toward the brand identity, their personality, style of content creation and, most importantly, shared values.
“In comparison with other brands, we’re a lot more particular and gradual with our selection process,” Perrot said.
“This practice is incredibly important to us. We always strive to partner with influencers who empower women and demonstrate professional, cultural and creative leadership, which are strong components of our brand DNA.”
Perrot sees the unfolding crisis as an opportunity to adapt her brand’s strategy to the new market realities.
Her plan is to maintain — or even increase — her budget allocation for digital and social media activity once the pandemic abates.
“For the brand, this is an essential element that’s needed now more than ever, whereas other marketing activities we had planned throughout the year, such as events, are currently no longer required,” Perrot said.
“In these challenging times, we remain dedicated to keeping connected with our team, our agencies and the influencers we work with, even if we need to take a step back for a short while.”
With digital platforms and social media networks attracting record audiences and poised to maintain their dominance going forward, Perrot expects to see brands make more active use of influencers and digital strategies.
“Brands will need to refocus their marketing activities to work alongside real influencers with a purpose, a voice and a genuine influence, as opposed to just looking at their number of followers,” she said.
“Above all, in order to get back to business as quickly as possible, we encourage everyone to do whatever they can to stay safe and adhere to all precautions put in place following advice from governments and health officials around the world.”